CAPITOL HILL American lawmakers differed sharply in their reaction to the first-ever face-to-face meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made history with their meeting Tuesday in Singapore, which ended with a pledge by Pyongyang "to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and an unexpected announcement that the U.S. would suspend military drills with South Korea.
In Washington, many lawmakers considered the move a first "step."
"This was a step in the right direction, and I think the world is a slightly safer place today than it was yesterday," Republican Senator Mike Rounds said.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated Trump on taking a "major step ... that will lead to an historic peace."
But while the Republicans sounded an optimistic note, the Democrats see pitfalls in what's described as a mostly aspirational statement from both sides that sets no timetables and leaves key terms undefined.
The statement calls for the two countries to jointly work on efforts to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, to establish new U.S.-North Korea relations, and to recover the remains of prisoners of war and military members missing in action. The two sides also promised to hold follow-up negotiations.
But the document doesn't lay out specifics regarding denuclearization by North Korea.
"This is the weakest statement I have ever seen come out of any engagement with North Korea. So, we look forward to the administration telling us what is the path forward and what is the strategy," Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said.
Democrats say North Korean leader Kim scored a major victory just meeting with Trump, without having to make any ironclad commitments.
Following the meeting, Trump spoke with VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren in an interview in Singapore, describing Kim as a "rough guy," but also as a leader who "loves his people," despite the North Korean leader's disturbing human rights history.
A 2014 United Nations report that examined North Korea concluded the country was among the world's worst human rights violators.
"These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation," the report stated.
When U.N. research for the 2014 report was conducted, it was discovered that widespread malnutrition and hunger persisted among the general population and that starvation-caused deaths continued to be reported.
Human rights record
Trump told VOA the two leaders discussed North Korea's dismal human rights record and said he believes Kim has "a great feeling" for its citizens and "wants to do right by them."
When asked about Kim's history of starving and brutalizing his people, Trump responded by saying, "Look, he's doing what he's seen done," and added U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang "will remain on until we can start dismantling ... the nuclear weapons."
Later Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "We have legitimized a brutal dictator who has starved his own people. If the United States is unable to win concrete, lasting concessions from North Korea, the meeting alone will be a victory for Kim Jong Un and a defeat for President Trump."
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said, "We can't lose sight of the fact that there are terrible, horrific humanitarian issues in North Korea, human rights abuses. And it's disconcerting to hear him [Trump] talk so glowingly about Kim Jong Un and so disparagingly about [Canadian] Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, our ally and neighbor to the north."
Republican Senator John Kennedy said, "Kim Jong Un is a butcher, and he is a butcher of his own people. And trying to reason with someone like that is like trying to hand-feed a shark."
But Republicans insist they are clear-eyed about the challenges ahead.
"Anybody who thinks we're going to fix 50 years-plus of major challenges here in one meeting is not being realistic. This is not easy and it's not going to happen overnight," Rounds said.
Shaheen and other lawmakers added there should be no cancellation of U.S. military exercises in Asia, as Trump suggested, without first consulting South Korea and other allies in the region.
Source: Voice of America